Earlier this week, Jamaican Usain Bolt proved to the sporting world that indeed speed sells. With MLB’s recent crackdown on PEDs subsequently limiting the homerun game, is it possible that baseball will start to see an increase of importance on the running game or have we already seen the last of players like Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman and Lou Brock?
Running is a much more complicated process than it was when we played tag in kindergarten. As our good friend Sen. Obama has shown us time and again, it is not without its pitfalls. And as Chinese hurdler, Liu Xiang, showed us, it is not without its pain.
But there are some people who just make it look easy. Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt. All of them make sprinting look as simple as hitting a home run looks for Manny Ramirez. Maybe they’re genetic freaks (or just straight up freaks as in the case of Manny), but there’s no denying they have a talent that 99.9% of the world just doesn’t have. It’s not so much what they do or how they do it but the fact that they can go out and replicate the feat on a consistent basis that sets them apart.
However, running does play an important role in the great American pastime. As much as I hate to have to think about it, much less mention it, one of the reasons that Cardinals beat the Tigers in the 2006 World Series was because the Cardinals had a running game that always put them in a position to score while the Tigers relied on brute strength that seemed to escape them when they needed it most. So, in that respect, I would argue that the question is moot in and of itself.
The running game has always been important for clubs that can’t afford to go out and buy sluggers. Now, the question is if the decrease in power will start to affect the Yankees, Tigers and Red Sox of the world. Again, I’d have to say that successful teams have usually found a way to combine the two elements.
Look at the Oakland A’s of late 80′s. Although they had the two most prolific juicers outside of Sammy Sosa on one team, they also had Rickey Henderson, Mr. “Rickey’s the Best” himself. And Canseco, although he could pound the ball, also did quite well for himself on the basepaths.
However, thoughts of Mr. Canseco and his ill-begotten physique bring me to another important point. Speed and doping aren’t always mutually exclusive. In fact, sometimes they’re regular kissing cousins as the the pride of Canada, Ben Johnson, can attest to. The crackdown on PEDs in MLB might lead to a general and overall slowing down of the game from the way it is played today. Remember, it wasn’t just the the Barry Bonds of the world who were looking for that little extra. It was also the Roger Clemens. And who knows how that might have also played into the speed game.
So, I think the answer to your question is that we have not seen the end of an era and that players who have great legs and a great jump will continue to be sought after. The thing that you have to take into account, though, is that you can’t steal a base or try for the hit-and-run unless you have someone on base in the first place. That was Rickey’s true talent, his ability to get himself in scoring position. And if you want to take it full-circle, it’s also the talent Mr. Obama has shown to this point in getting himself nominated. However, now we have to wait and see if he can find a way to bring it home just like Mr. Bolt.